Sunday 27 March 2022

Cuba Prepares for Climate Disaster

Written by Don Fitz

The September 2021 Scientific American included a description by the editors of the deplorable state of disaster relief in the US.  They traced the root cause of problems with relief programs as their “focus on restoring private property,” which results in little attention to those “with the least capacity to deal with disasters.”  The book Disaster Preparedness and Climate Change in Cuba: Adaptation and Management (2021) came out the next month. 

It traced the highly successful source of the island nation’s efforts to the way it put human welfare above property.  This collection of 14 essays by Emily J. Kirk, Isabel Story, and Anna Clayfield is an extraordinary assemblage of articles, each addressing specific issues.  

Writers are well aware that Cuban approaches are adapted to the unique geography and history of the island.  What readers should take away is not so much the specific actions of Cuba as its method of studying a wide array of approaches and actually putting the best into effect (as opposed to merely talking about their strengths and weaknesses).  The book traces Cuba’s preparedness from the threat of a US invasion following its revolution through its resistance to hurricanes and diseases, which all laid the foundation for current adaptions to climate change.

Only four years after the revolution, in 1963, Hurricane Flora hit the Caribbean, killing 7000-8000.  Cubans who are old enough remember homes being washed away by waters carrying rotten food, animal carcasses and human bodies.  It sparked a complete redesign of health systems, intensifying their integration from the highest decision-making bodies to local health centers.  Construction standards were strengthened, requiring houses to have reinforced concrete and metal roofs to resist strong winds.

Decades of re-designing proved successful.  In September 2017 Category 5 Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, leading to 2975 deaths.  The same month, Irma, also a Category 5 Hurricane, arrived in Cuba, causing 10 deaths.  The dedication to actually preparing the country for a hurricane (as opposed to merely talking about preparedness) became a model for coping with climate change.  

Projecting potential future damage led Cubans to realize that by 2050, rising water levels could destroy 122 coastal towns.  By 2017, Cuba had become the only country with a government-led plan (Project Life, or Tarea Vida) to combat climate change which includes a 100 year projection. 

Disaster Planning 

Several aspects merged to form the core of Cuban disaster planning.  They included education, the military, and social relationships.  During 1961, Cuba’s signature campaign raised literacy to 96%, one of the world’s highest rates.  This has been central to every aspect of disaster preparation – government officials and educators travel throughout the island, explaining consequences of inaction and everyone’s role in avoiding catastrophe.

Less obvious is the critical role of the military.  From the first days they took power, leaders such as Fidel and Che explained that the only way the revolution could defend itself from overwhelming US force would be to become a “nation in arms.”  Soon self-defense from hurricanes combined with self-defense from attack and Cuban armed forces became a permanent part of fighting natural disasters.  By 1980, exercises called Bastión (bulwark) fused natural disaster management with defense rehearsals.

As many as 4 million Cubans (in a population of 11 million) were involved in activities to practice and carry out food production, disease control, sanitation and safeguarding medical supplies.  A culture based on understanding the need to create a new society has glued these actions together.  

When a policy change is introduced, government representatives go to each community, including the most remote rural ones, to make sure that everyone knows the threats that climate change poses to their lives and how they can alter behaviors to minimize them.  Developing a sense of responsibility for ecosystems includes such diverse actions as conserving energy, saving water, preventing fires and using medical products sparingly. 


One aspect of the book may confuse readers.  Some authors refer to the Cuban disaster prevention system as “centralized;” others refer to it as “decentralized;” and some describe it as both “centralized” and “decentralized” on different pages of their essay.  The collection reflects a methodology of “dialectical materialism” which often employs the unity of opposite processes (“heads” and “tails” are opposite static states united in the concept of “coin”).  As multiple authors have explained, including Ross Danielson in his classic Cuban Medicine (1979), centralization and decentralization of medicine have gone hand-in-hand since the earliest days of the revolution.  

This may appear as centralization of inpatient care and decentralization of outpatient care (p. 165) but more often as centralization at the highest level of norms and decentralization of ways to implement care to the local level.  The decision to create doctor-nurse offices was made by the ministry which provided guidelines for each area to implement according to local conditions. 

A national plan for coping with Covid-19 was developed before the first Cuban died of the affliction and each area designed ways to to get needed medicines, vaccines and other necessities to their communities.  Proposals for preventing water salinization in coastal areas will be very different from schemas for coping with rises in temperature in inland communities. 

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Good 

As non-stop use of fossil fuels renders the continued existence of humanity questionable, the issue of how to obtain energy rationally looms as a core problem of the twenty-first century.  Disaster Preparedness explores an intriguing variety of energy sources.  Some of them are outstandingly good; a few are bad; and, many provoke closer examination.

Raúl Castro proposed in 1980 that it was necessary to protect the countryside from impacts of nickel mining.  What was critical in this early approach was an understanding that every type of metal extraction has negatives that must be weighed against its usefulness in order to minimize those negatives.  What did not appear in his approach was making a virtue of necessity, which would have read “Cuba needs nickel for trade; therefore, extracting Cuban nickel is good; and, thus, problems with producing nickel should be ignored or trivialized.”

In 1991, when the USSR collapsed and Cuba lost its subsidies and many of its trading partners, its economy was devastated, adult males lost an average of 20 pounds, and health problems became widespread.  This was Cuba’s “Special Period.”  Not having oil meant that Cuba had to abandon machine-intensive agriculture for agroecology and urban farming.

Laws prohibited use of agrochemicals in urban gardens.  Vegetable and herb production exploded from 4000 tons in 1994 to over 4 million tons by 2006.  By 2019, Jason Hickel’s Sustainable Development Index rated Cuba’s ecological efficiency as the best in the world.

By far the most important part of Cuba’s energy program was using less energy via conservation, an idea abandoned by Western “environmentalists” who began endorsing unlimited expansion of energy produced by “alternative” sources.  In 2005, Fidel began pushing conservation policies projected to reduce Cuba’s energy consumption by two-thirds.  Ideas such these had blossomed during the first few years of the revolution.

What one author refers to as “bioclimatic architecture” is not clear, but it could include tile vaulting, which was studied extensively by the Cuban government in the early 1960s.  It is based on arched ceilings formed by lightweight terra cotta tiles.  The technique is low-carbon because it does not require expensive machinery and uses mainly local material such as terra cotta tiles from Camagüey province.  Though used to construct buildings throughout the island, it was abandoned due to its need for skilled and specialized labor.  

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Bad  

Though there are negative aspects to Cuba’s energy perspectives, it is important to consider one which is anything but negative: energy efficiency (EE).  Ever since Stanley Jevons predicted in 1865 that a more efficient steam engine design would result in more (not less) coal being used, it has been widely understood that if the price of energy (such as burning coal) is cheaper, then people will use more energy.

A considerable amount of research verifies that, at the level of the entire economy, efficiency makes energy cheaper and its use goes up.  Some claim that if an individual uses a more EE option, then that person will use less energy.  But that is not necessarily so.  Someone buying a car might look for one that is more EE.  If the person replaces a non-EE sedan with an EE SUV, the fact that SUVs use more energy than sedans would mean that the person is using more energy to get around. Similarly, rich people use money saved from EE devices to buy more gadgets while poor people might not buy anything additional or buy low-energy necessities.

This is why Cuba, a poor country with a planned economy, can design policies to reduce energy use.  Whatever is saved from EE can lead to less or low-energy production, resulting in a spiraling down of energy usage.  In contrast, competition drives capitalist economies toward investing funds saved from EE toward economic expansion, resulting in perpetual growth.

Though a planned economy allows for decisions that are healthier for people and ecosystems, bad choices can be made.  One consideration in Cuba is the goal to “efficiently apply pesticides” (p. 171).  The focus should actually be on how to farm without pesticides.  

Also under consideration is “solid waste energy capacities,” which is typically a euphemism for burning waste in incinerators.  Incinerators are a terrible way to produce energy since they merely reduce the volume of trash to 10% of its original size while releasing poisonous gases, heavy metals (such as mercury and lead), and cancer-causing dioxins and furans.

The worst energy alternative was favored by Fidel, who supported a nuclear power plant which would supposedly “greatly reduce the cost of producing electricity.” (p. 187)  Had the Soviets built a Chernobyl-type nuclear reactor, an explosion or two would not have contributed to disaster prevention.  

Once when I was discussing the suffering following the USSR collapse with a friend who writes technical documents for the Cuban government, he suddenly blurted out, “The only good thing coming out of the Special Period was that, without the Soviets, Fidel could not build his damned nuclear plant!” 

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Uncertain 

Between the poles of positive and negative lies a vast array of alternatives mentioned in Disaster Preparedness that most are unfamiliar with.  There are probably few who know of bagasse, which is left over sugar cane stalks that have been squeezed for juice.  Burning it for fuel might arouse concern because it is not plowed into soil like what should be done for wheat stems and corn stalks.  Sugar cane is different because the entire plant is hauled away – it would waste fuel to transport it to squeezing machinery and then haul it back to the farm.

While fuel from bagasse is an overall environmental plus, the same cannot be said for oilseeds such as Jatropha curcas.  Despite the book suggesting the they might be researched more, they are a dead end for energy production.

Another energy positive being expanded in Cuba is farms being run entirely on agroecology principles.  The book claims that such farms can produce 12 times the energy they consume, which might seem like a lot.  Yet, similar findings occur in other countries, notably Sweden.  In contrast, at least one author holds out hope of obtaining energy from microalgae, almost certainly another dead end.

Potentially, a very promising source for energy is the use of biogas from biodigesters.  Biodigesters break down manure and other biomass to create biogas which is used for tractors or transportation.  Leftover solid waste material can be used as a (non-fossil fuel) fertilizer.  On the other hand, an energy source which one author lists as viable is highly dubious: “solar cells built with gallum arsenide.”  Compounds with arsenic are cancer-causing and not healthy for humans and other living species.

The word “biomass” is highly charged because it is one of Europe’s “clean, green” energy sources despite the fact that burning wood pellets is leading to deforestation in Estonia and the US.  This does not seem to be the case in Cuba, where “biomass” refers to sawdust and weedy marabú trees.  It remains important to distinguish positive biomass from highly destructive biomass.

Many other forms of alternative energy could be covered and there is a critical point applying to all of them.  Each source of energy must be analyzed separately without ever assuming that if energy does not come from fossil fuels it is therefore useful and safe. 

Depending on How You Get It 

The three major sources of alternative energy – hydroturbines (dams), solar, and wind – share the characteristic that how positive or negative they are depends on the way they are obtained.

The simplest form of hydro power is the paddle wheel, which probably causes zero environmental damage and produces very little energy.  At the other extreme is hydro-electric dams which cross entire rivers and are incredibly destructive towards human cultures and aquatic and terrestrial species.  In between are methods such as diverting a portion of the river to harness its power. 

The book mentions pico-hydroturbines which affect only a portion of a river, generating less than 5kW and are extremely useful for remote areas.  They have minimal environmental effects.  But if a large number of these turbines were placed together in a river, that would be a different matter.  The general rule for water power is that causing less environmental damage means producing less energy.

Many ways to produce energy start with the sun.  Cuba uses passive solar techniques, which do not have toxic processes associated with electricity.  A passivehaus design provides warmth largely via insulation and placement of windows.  Extremely important is body heat.  

This makes a passivhaus difficult for Americans, whose homes typically have much more space per person than other countries.  But the design could work better in Cuba, where having three generations living together in a smaller space would contribute to heating quite well. 

At the negative extreme of solar energy are the land-hungry electricity-generating arrays.  In between these poles is low-intensity solar power, also being studied by Cuba.

The vast majority of Cubans heat their water for bathing.  Water heaters can depend on solar panels which turn sunlight into electricity.  An even better non-electric design would be to use a box with glass doors and a black tank to collect heat, or to use “flat plate collectors” and then pipe the heated water to an indoor storage tank.  As with hydro-power, simpler designs produce fewer problems but generate less energy.

Wind power is highly similar.  Centuries ago, windmills were constructed with materials from the surrounding area and did not rely on or produce toxins.  Today’s industrial wind turbines are toxic in every phase of their existence.  In the ambiguous category are small wind turbines and wind pumps, both of which Cuba is exploring.  What hydro, solar and wind power have in common is that non-destructive forms exist but produce less energy.  The more energy-producing a system is, the more problematic it becomes. 

Scuttling the Fetish 

Since hydro, solar and wind power have reputations as “renewable, clean, green” sources of energy, it is necessary to examine them closely.  Hydro, solar and wind power each require destructive extraction of materials such as lithium, cobalt, silver, aluminum, cadmium, indium, gallium, selenium, tellurium, neodymium, and dysprosium.  All three lead to mountains of toxic waste that vastly exceed the amount obtained for use.  And all require withdrawal of immense amounts of water (a rapidly vanishing substance) during the mining and construction.

Hydro-power also disrupts aquatic species (as well as several terrestrial ones), causes large releases of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from reservoirs, increases mercury poisoning, pushes people out of their homes during construction, intensifies international conflicts, and have killed up to 26,000 people from breakage.  

Silicon-based solar panels involves an additional list of toxic chemicals that can poison workers during manufacture, gargantuan loss of farm and forest land for installing “arrays” (which rapidly increases over time), and still more land loss for disposal after their 25-30 year life spansIndustrial wind turbines require loss of forest land for roads to haul 160 foot blades to mountain tops, land loss for depositing those mammoth blades after use, and energy-intensive storage capacity when there is no wind.

Hydro, solar and wind power are definitely NOT renewable, since they all are based on heavy usage  of materials that are exhausted following continuous mining.  Neither are they “carbon neutral” because all use fossil fuels for extraction of necessary building materials and end-of-life demolition.  The most important point is that the issues listed here are a tiny fraction of total problems, which would require a very thick book to enumerate.

Why use the word “fetish” for approaches to hydro, solar and wind power?  A “fetish” can be described as “a material object regarded with extravagant trust or reverence”  These sources of energy have positive characteristics, but nothing like the reverence often bestowed upon them.

Cuba’s approach to alternative energy is quite different.  Helen Yaffe wrote two of the major articles in Disaster Preparedness.  She also put together the 2021 documentary, Cuba’s life task: Combatting climate change, which includes the following from advisor Orlando Rey Santos:

“One problem today is that you cannot convert the world’s energy matrix, with current consumption levels, from fossil fuels to renewable energies.  There are not enough resources for the panels and wind turbines, nor the space for them.  There are insufficient resources for all this.  If you automatically made all transportation electric tomorrow, you will continue to have the same problems of congestion, parking, highways, heavy consumption of steel and cement.”

Cuba maps out many different outlines for energy in order to focus on those that are the most productive while causing the least damage.  A genuine environmental approach requires a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA, also known as cradle-to-grave accounting) which includes all mining, milling, construction and transport of materials; the energy-gathering process itself (including environmental disruption); along with after-effects such as continuing environmental damage and disposal of waste.  

To these must be added social effects such as relocating people, injury and death of those resisting relocation, destruction of sacred cites and disruption of affected cultures. 

A “fetish” on a specific energy source denotes tunnel-visioning on its use phase while ignoring preparatory and end-of-life phases and social disruption.  While LCAs are often propounded by corporations, they are typically nothing but window-dressing, to be pitched out of window during actual decision-making.  With an eternal growth dynamic, capitalism has a built-in tendency to downplay negatives when there is an opportunity to add new energy sources to the mix of fossil fuels. 

Is It an Obscene Word? 

Cuba has no such internal dynamics forcing it to expand the economy if it can provide better lives for all.  The island could be a case study of degrowth economics.  Since “degrowth” is shunned as a quasi-obscenity by many who insist that it would cause immeasurable suffering for the world’s poor, it is necessary to state what it would be.  

The best definition is that Global Economic Degrowth means (a) reduction of unnecessary and destructive production by and for rich countries (and people), (b) which exceeds the (c) growth of production of necessities by and for poor countries (and people).

This might not be as economically difficult as some imagine because …

1. The rich world spends such gargantuan wealth on that which is useless and deadly, including war toys, chemical poisons, planned obsolescence, creative destruction of goods, insurance, automobile addiction, among a mass of examples; and,

2. Providing the basic necessities of life can often be relatively cheap, such as health care in Cuba being less than 10% of US expenses (with Cubans having a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate).

Some mischaracterize degrowth, claiming that “Cuba experienced ‘degrowth’ during its ‘Special Period’ and it was horrible.”  Wrong!  Degrowth did not immiserate Cuba – the US embargo did.  US sanctions (or embargo or blockade) of Cuba creates barriers to trade which force absurdly high prices for many goods.  

One small example: If Cubans need a spare part manufactured in the US, it cannot be merely shipped from the US, but more likely, arrives via Europe.  That means its cost will reflect: [manufacture] + [cost of shipping to Europe] + [cost of shipping from Europe to Cuba].

What is amazing is that Cuba has developed so many techniques of medical care and disaster management for hurricanes and climate change, despite its double impoverishment from colonial days and neo-colonial attacks from the US. 


Cuba realizes the responsibility it has to protect its extraordinary biodiversity.  Its extensive coral reefs are more resistant to bleaching than most and must be investigated to discover why.  They are accompanied by healthy marine systems which include mangroves and seagrass beds.  Its flora and fauna boast 3022 distinct plant species plus dozens of reptiles, amphibians and bird species which exist only on the island. 

For Cuba to implement global environmental protection and degrowth policies it would need to receive financing both to research new techniques and to train the world’s poor in how to develop their own ways to live better.  Such financial support would include …

1. Reparations for centuries of colonial plunder;

2. Reparations for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, multiple attacks which killed Cuban citizens, hundreds of attempts on Fidel’s life, and decades of slanderous propaganda; and,

3. At least $1 trillion in reparations for losses due to the embargo since 1962

Why reparations? It is far more than the fact that Cuba has been harmed intensely by the US.  Cuba has a track record proving that it could develop amazing technologies if it were left alone and received the money it deserves. 

Like all poor countries, Cuba is forced to employ dubious methods of producing energy in order to survive.  It is unacceptable for rich countries to tell poor countries that they must not use energy techniques which have historically been employed to obtain what is necessary for living.  It is unconscionable for rich countries to fail to forewarn poor countries that repeating practices which we now know are dangerous will leave horrible legacies for their descendants.

Cuba has acknowledged past misdirections including an economy based on sugar, a belief in the need of humanity to dominate nature, support for the “Green Revolution” with its reliance on toxic chemicals, tobacco in food rations, and the repression of homosexuals.  Unless it is sidetracked by advocates of infinite economic growth, its pattern suggests that it will recognize problems with alternative energy and seek to avoid them. 

In the video Cuba’s Life Task, Orlando Rey also observes that “There must be a change in the way of life, in our aspirations.  This is a part of Che Guevara’s ideas on the ‘new man.’  Without forming that new human, it is very difficult to confront the climate issue.”

Integration of poor countries into the global market has meant that areas which were once able to feed themselves are now unable to do so. Neo-liberalism forces them to use energy sources that are life-preservers in the short run but are death machines for their descendants.  The world must remember that Che’s “new man” will not clamor for frivolous luxuries while others starve.  

For humanity to survive, a global epiphany rejecting consumer capitalism must become a material force in energy production.  Was Che only dreaming?  If so, then keep that dream alive! 

Don Fitz ( is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought, where a version of this article originally appeared. He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. His articles on politics and the environment have appeared in Monthly Review, Z Magazine, and Green Social Thought, as well as multiple online publications. His book, Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution, has been available since June 2020.  Thoughts from Stan Cox and John Som de Cerff were very helpful for technical aspects of this review. 

Thursday 24 March 2022

The EU, Italy, Gas and Nuclear Power


Abridged article by Tobias Abse originally for Green Socialist

COP26 left us with the impression that although India, China and Russia were trying to minimise the urgency of global heating, the EU was nominally committed to taking some action. But on 2 February 2022, the European Commission gave its approval to what it called a ‘taxonomy’ of fuels which categorised both natural gas (i.e., methane) and nuclear power as ‘green’.

This shocking decision was the culmination of a rather fraught discussion that had been going on since December 2021, when it first became obvious that there was a minority of EU governments that opposed the initial draft proposals, some very strongly. Sweden and Austria are threatening to contest it by appealing to the European Court of Justice, whilst Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxemburg have also expressed opposition.

However, whilst this decision has delayed any vote on the European Council even if Germany joins the six the ‘taxonomy’ would be approved. The only real chance of stopping this proposal from becoming EU law is if there is an absolute majority against it in the European Parliament. It is opposed by both the Greens and the Left Group. And possibly the Social Democrats will vote against it as a bloc.

If the Liberals, now renamed Renew Europe, obey the French President, they will vote in favour. The European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) is divided, with the Austrians against. The two Far Rights blocs are enormously enthusiastic about nuclear power, and generally favour gas.

Given enough popular pressure from European citizens, it is still possible that enough wavering MEPs in the Centre of the political spectrum might vote to revoke it, but it will be an uphill battle.

The reason that a decision, which goes against all the rhetoric of a ‘European Green Deal’, was made had nothing to do with science, it was a reflection of the power politics of the EU. France is largely dependent upon nuclear power for its electricity, and Germany is increasingly reliant on gas. The Eastern European countries are by and large quite comfortable with their outdated Soviet era nuclear power stations, and their right-wing nationalist/populist leaders are not very keen on any ‘Green Deal’ and often resist phasing out coal.

The ‘taxonomy’ may not be designed to influence the choices of private investors, but ecological transition, can never be accomplished without state intervention. For example, BlackRock, the biggest of all investment funds, which administers around 9,500 billion dollars, decided a year ago to take the ‘Green Road’, so that ‘green bonds will get priority over any other shares or bonds. Therefore, EU legitimation will mean they can invest in gas or nuclear.

This ‘taxonomy’ decision coincided with a crisis in gas supplies to the EU., in part the result of the uneven recovery from the COVID epidemic, which led the Chinese to buy up a large proportion of the available reserves. Moreover, the failure of the EU27 to work together in securing gas supplies and reserves allowed suppliers to benefit from bidding wars.

The rise in gas prices, and the knock-on impact on electricity prices, poses a political problem for governments since angry consumers are likely to vote them out at the net election.

In Italy, the man who takes most delight in the current situation is Roberto Cingolani, Minister for Ecological Transition or as Italian environmentalists now dub him, ‘The Minister for Ecological Fiction’. Cingolani has argued that too rapid a shift towards a more ecological economy would be ‘a bloodbath’. He has always been an enthusiast for both methane and nuclear power advocating ‘fourth generation’ of mini nuclear reactors, which would allegedly produce little radioactive waste.

Cingolani has also just removed the restrictions on drilling for gas both on land and under the sea. Mario Draghi’s government has now announced a plan to double Italy’s gas production as soon as possible.

Tobias Abse is a member of the Green Alliance for Socialism.

Monday 21 March 2022

Shopfloor Ecosocialism: Pumping the Brakes on Fossil Fuels

Written by Nicole A. Murray and first published at Partisan

How organized labor can shift us away from dominant car culture and turn the tides of climate crisis at the point of production.

Organized labor is currently faced with the most consequential question of its life: are oil and gas commodities that workers have a right to burn for their own material benefit; or should they be left in the ground?

As an ecosocialist, the answer is clear: no more burning fossil fuels. Organized labor is in the unique position to both disrupt the deep systems that perpetuate dependence on fossil fuels and the products that run on them, while also ensuring production pivots towards the greater public good over individual personal luxury.

One system ripe for disruption is car dependence. Car-centric living requires millions of gallons of fossil fuels be burned into the air, every day, just so people can participate in society. It is a structural problem that requires a large-scale, organized solution that is clear-eyed on both the source and the results of car dependency. 

The existing pattern of development in the US in our urban, suburban and peri-urban spaces reflects an intentional plan by petro-capitalists and the state to center life around the automobile. The Federal Housing Administration subsidized low-density suburban development from the 1930s through the post-war years. Ex-urban homeownership, largely enjoyed exclusively by white families, boosted demand for automobiles, consumer durables, and energy consumption, thereby absorbing overproduction from some of the biggest industries of the time: the oil and automotive industries.1 

Indeed, the self-reinforcing and self-reproducing system of sprawl, cars, and gas make this system difficult to disrupt on a systemic level when the petro-capitalists are still many regions’ top employers and tax payers.

Today, car-centric systems seem fair and normal. Yet Americans collectively owe $1.37 trillion in auto loan debt — 10 times that of medical debt — to collectively burn about 350 millions gallons of finished motor gasoline into the air per day,2 dwarfing China in terms of both per capita and total gasoline use.3 Unlike in other sectors such as energy production, global emissions in road transportation are projected to grow, and grow fast.

Make no mistake: it’s the system of automobility as a whole that is unsustainable, not individual use and consumption. Even advances in efficiency, including electrification (electric vehicles) will be wiped out by more widespread adoption especially as auto manufacturers open up markets in the global south.

Historically, there have been organized efforts to build towards structural solutions that start at the point of production from inside the auto industry itself. While those efforts were not explicitly in the name of ecosocialism as we understand it today, our country’s rich labor history as it unfolded in auto plants should not be glossed over.

Automotive manufacturing employed one out of six Americans in the height of Motor City,4 and about 5% of all workers globally today. Communist and socialist-led organizing in auto plants played a crucial role in organizing industrial shops. Beyond the shop floor, affordable cars were even crucial in the labor struggles of Southern smallholders and tenant farmers: those who were able to purchase vehicles were no longer beholden to a single plantation commissary and could purchase supplies at much lower prices in the nearby urban centers.5 

But take a moment to think about those who were unable to purchase vehicles. They didn’t necessarily benefit from their peers’ new automotive freedom. The core relationship between capitalist and worker is not challenged via consumer products (and more cars won’t get us out of the cycle of too many cars). And spare a thought for Detroit today. Without worker control fully realized, and with capital fleeing out of cities and to the global south during neoliberalization, US auto production has been on the decline since the ’90s.6

Organized labor can change the paradigm through direct, organized, and militant action by demanding both a shift in production towards more buses, trains, rail and bicycles, and also work and social lives that are decoupled from individualized, resource and fuel-intensive consumer products.

First, manufacturers and auto workers must push for shifting production to socially responsible goods, ideally through direct control of the means of production. There is precedent for this approach: The Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), a 1960s radical group of Black anti-war and anti-imperialist Marxist auto workers had no interest in making cars to turn the Big Three automakers a profit: “DRUM wanted workers to have all the pie and to produce goods only for social needs.”7 

While their vision was never realized, they had an unprecedented foresight into the destructive role the auto and gas industries would have in colonization and fascism , nevermind climate change.

The manufacture of buses, trains, light rail, and even bicycles provides jobs across all skill sets; these public goods move many more people using far fewer resources and energy, without burdening individuals with the debts and risks that come with personal cars.

Second, organized labor across all industries can reduce our country’s massive fuel use not through austerity or taxes, but by fighting for more flexible work schedules that reduce the need for so much driving to begin with. The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), a trade association representing gas station convenience stores and filling stations, says they have repeatedly found people drive less when gas prices are high enough to become a financial hardship.8 

Anyone who has ever had to dig through their couch for coins to pay for a few more drops of gas can attest to these findings. High gas prices mean less driving, thus less greenhouse gasses and particulate matter, but at the cost of contraining social and economic activity, especially by the poor: they mostly just stay home.

NACS also found that people drive more not when prices are low, but when they have more work, family, and social responsibilities. Reversing the atomization and alienation of modern life has been a core goal of communist organizers and thinkers for a century. Winning more freedom from individual responsibilities gives workers and their families the freedom to forgo those responsibilities only a personal car can conveniently shepherd: commuting alone many miles to work, picking up/dropping off dependents on their varied schedules, moving personal goods, and otherwise running themselves ragged in traffic.

These benefits are universal, even in areas where public transportation does not (yet) exist, and especially for those people — about 20% of Americans and 80% of people worldwide — who do not drive a car for structural, legal, personal, financial, or medical reasons.

The core goal of communist organizing is that we can and must control our own futures. For ecosocialists, that future is decarbonized, decoupled from burning excess energy just to arrive at work, school, or care. Gasoline has a precarious journey into our cars. Its source material, crude oil, spills out of—and into—the jungles of Ecuador, the shores of the Gulf, the deltas of Africa’s rivers, and the tundras of Alaska and Russia. And when it’s mercifully unspilled, when it’s not poisoning rivers and destroying fisheries people depend on for food and water, when it’s not killing babies in the womb, when it safely and soundly makes its way to its final destination — a gas station in Anytown, USA — we pay the privilege of $3-$4 a gallon to burn it into the air on our way to sell our wages.

Transportation has been the largest consumer of petroleum products in the USA for at least 100 years.9 It’s about time organized labor says enough.

Nicole is a member of New York City Democratic Socialists of America Ecosocialist Working Group.


  1. Mattioli, Giulio et al, “The political economy of car dependence: A systems of provision approach,” Energy Research & Social Science, no. 66 (2020), doi:10.1016/j.erss.2020.101486
  2. “How much gasoline does the United States consume?”, U.S. Energy Information Administration, September 07, 2021,
  3. Wang, Shirley and Mengpin Ge, “Everything You Need to Know About the Fastest-Growing Source of Global Emissions: Transport,” World Resources Institute, October 16, 2019.
  4. Georgakas, Dan and Marvin Surkin. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying. South End Press, 1998. 30.
  5. Kelley, Robin. Hammer & Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression. UNC Press, 1990. 37.
  6. “U.S. domestic auto production from 1994 to 2020,” Statista,
  7. Georgakas and Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, 44.
  8. “The Relationship Between Gas Prices and Demand”, NACS, March 20, 2020,
  9. “In the United States, most petroleum is consumed in transportation,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, August 02, 2019

Friday 18 March 2022

Ecosocialist Alliance Statement - Ukraine/Climate Emergency

Ecosocialist Alliance, organised by Green Left, Left Unity and Anti-Capitalist Resistance in the UK, have released a statement on the importance of not losing sight of the climate emergency, amid the events in Ukraine. 

The war in Ukraine 

The Ecosocialist Alliance unreservedly condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and stands in solidarity with its people. We therefore call for an immediate and unconditional halt to the war and the withdrawal of all Russian military personnel and equipment. We also oppose any NATO escalation and, instead, support diplomatic negotiations to resolve this crisis. 

However, whilst the main responsibility for this invasion of a sovereign country rests with Putin and his pursuit of a new Russian imperialism in the region, we also recognise that, since 1989, US foreign policy and actions, and NATO’s expansion and positioning of nuclear weapons, have all been long-term factors contributing to this current crisis. We thus also call for a halt to further NATO expansion and, ultimately, for NATO’s disbandment. 

Additionally, we call on the UK government to open our borders to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict, whether or not they have relatives living here; and to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees (wherever they may be), and to those civilians still remaining in Ukraine - such aid to be paid for by seizing the funds of Russian oligarchs in any way linked to Putin’s regime. 

The Climate Emergency 

However, despite the unfolding human tragedy in Ukraine, we must not lose sight of the fact that the recent IPCC Report - issued just days after the Russian invasion and, as a result, largely ignored by the mainstream media - clearly shows the world is already experiencing an even more serious humanitarian crisis than that in Ukraine: Climate Breakdown.  

So far, this is mostly unfolding in the Global South, but is already impacting on millions of people. The Report issues stark warnings that, unless serious steps are taken in the next few years to drastically reduce GHG emissions, Planet Earth is headed for an increase in average global heating of 3C or even more. This would, amongst other things, lead to millions of climate-related deaths and create tens of millions of climate refugees. 

The Ecosocialist Alliance thus totally opposes all those cynically using the Ukraine Crisis, and UK imports of Russian gas and oil, as excuses for abandoning the UK’s ‘target’ of ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050. In particular, we condemn the ‘Big Carbon’ arsonists and the Tory ‘culture war’ right in the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) - and their supporters in the Tory government - who are now calling for ending the moratorium on fracking, for the opening up of new oil and gas fields, a massive roll-out of new nuclear, and even for allowing new coalmines. 

Instead, we call for a massive and immediate investment in renewable energy schemes across the country, and for a nationwide insulation programme to retro-fit all the UK’s homes and offices. Such policies will end the UK’s dependence on Russian oil and gas - and on all oil and gas, wherever they come from - and thus achieve ‘energy security’ much more quickly and much more cheaply than any of the dirty fossil-fuel schemes currently being called for by the Tory right. 

A rapid push for renewables and insulation would also help to significantly address the cost of living crisis by cutting domestic energy bills, and so reducing the number of those currently living in fuel poverty. Such steps would also help decrease the ecological and geo-political risks posed by competition for fossil fuel reserves - and the global war machines that depend on the petro-chemical industries and which are responsible for massive GHG emissions.   

All these steps would greatly contribute to solving the ever-worsening Climate Crisis, and to reducing mounting risks to global peace.

Contact -

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Why the World Needs Ecosocialism

Written by Max Ajl and first published at Green New Deal Media

A Just Transition Means Rejecting The Failed Electoralist Strategies Of Social Democracy And Instead Building A Radical Movement Of Movements.

Climate change affects everyone, but it does not affect everyone the same way. It hammers a capitalist world rampant with inequality and exploitation. This is the case because capitalism neither exploits nor develops evenly. Some nation-states are centers for accumulating wealth and development. Some nation-states are peripheries, and are underdeveloped.

Development and underdevelopment are two sides of the same process: accumulation on a world scale. Climate change, in turn, is a human-made process, a product and accelerator of uneven accumulation. Because it is human-made, some states (as well as some within those states) are more responsible than others.

And the very poorest simply bear no culpability at all. Yet those least culpable – Bangladesh, Yemen, Haiti – are those which will suffer most in a warming world. Drought, typhoon, and flooding have and will burst across the South with far more ferocity and frequency than across the North. Climate injustice is a thus part of the story of uneven capitalist accumulation.

Climate change is the child of fossil-fueled capitalist industrialization. While in principle industrialization is a distinct process from capitalism and imperialism, in history it has moved hand-in-hand with them – each whirl in a destructive spiral. Industrialization, especially, provides the engines of war, and contributes to making life easier for many, especially but not only in the North, allowing it to freely devastate the ecologies and states of the South.

Where does that leave us? We need global eco-socialism. Such a system would be marked by global developmental convergence: just about everyone and in particular every state would have roughly equivalent access to development (or, the good life). Such a system would necessarily be modern, with complex exchanges of goods. It would be industrial, but a controlled industrialization, because industrialization is a tool. It is a means not an end.

And it would be ecological: it would in general not produce waste beyond human-natural capacity to remediate. And it would work towards the restoration of the ecology.

Where does that leave us? Here is where accumulation on a world scale comes in. It reminds us that different nations have distinct class structures, implying different political burdens, differentiated responsibilities, and different paths towards world developmental convergence.

Southern countries need political space to carry out independent development, including independent and sovereign industrialization — without northern interference — based on their own balances and values, probably through regional economic unions, and with a strong emphasis on the agrarian question. Such thinking has taproots in figures and formations like Simón Bolívar, Hugo Chávez, strains of pan-Africanism, and pan-Arab radical movements and parties.

National agrarian systems need land-to-the-tiller agrarian reform, cooperativisation where possible, and help from industry via the technical upgrading of agriculture. Ecologically sustainable forms of pastoralism and integrated livestock on farms would be important, too, as hundreds of millions if not billions of people rely on them for securing some part of their needs. Agro-ecology, or the application of scientific procedures to understand the logic of and attempt to assist “traditional” agriculture, and more broadly, sustainable land management are important too.

Through these policies, the South could better protect its ecology, enhance biodiversity outcomes through a sensitive blurring of hardened spatial boundaries between human and non-human nature and the countryside, and mobilize a surplus from agriculture for domestic industrialization and infrastructural investment.

Similar goals are important for the North. There, some sectors, like industrialized petrochemical farming and ranching and confined feeding operations, alongside the petroleum industry, would need to be eliminated – or “degrow.” Other sectors, like agro-ecological agriculture and processing of wood from sustainable forestry, would need to grow.

And we need massive investment, far above WWII levels, to shift US industrial plants to the production of insulation, renewables for South and North, and infrastructure like mass transit systems to replace the massive waste of private transport.

How We Get There

We cannot think about economic and technological architecture without thinking about politics: internationalism in support of national self-determination and national liberation for the South. Strong mobilization against sanctions on Iran and Zimbabwe and Syria, and against the US war on Yemen, are inseparable from the climate question. They are the precondition for its just resolution.

Reparations, on terms dictated by the South and defended by Northern comrades, are part of this process. “The financial mechanism must respect the sovereign control of each country to determine the definition, design, implementation of policy and programmatic approaches to climate change,” as stated in the Cochabamba People’s Agreement working group. It must total six percent of northern GNP per year — around $3.2 trillion.

And it must work alongside a totally renovated notion of technology transfer based on building up sovereign technological capacity, especially preventing “intellectual property” from being used towards private or imperial state profits.

How to get there? Political strategies diverge wildly. A popular narrative has been that electoral insurgencies, within or without the historical social-democratic or slightly-more-working class parties, is capable of delivering the kind of massive infrastructure spending capable of averting climate change. Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, SYRIZA – each has either been immolated by capital or surrendered in its face. In their wake, the electoral route to eco-socialism rests, supposedly, on a future Congressional majority pushing it through, by the hands of US figures like Jamal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In fact, this is a recipe for disaster. No social movement or political party has ever implemented its full program when in office, and the electoral route to social democracy in the North seems plausible on a time span sometime after the planet has turned to Venus and Yemen is a graveyard.

Moreover, the 1945-1970 “Golden Age” or labor-capital social pact occurred only against the capitalist democracies’ fear of the domestic popularity of communism. The capitalist parties gave bread and butter to some (though not Black people) domestically and guns abroad, incinerating social democratic, radical nationalist, or Communist parties in an arc of terror from southern Latin America to the Arab region to Africa to Indonesia.

What is the alternative? A radical movement of movements, what Paris Yeros has called a “New Bandung”, capable of weaving together radicalized states, anti-capitalist social movements, and independent anti-imperialist parties and movements in the North within a new common front that can offer accountable, strength, succor, and which can act as a mooring point for northern radicals seeking to break from the gravity of imperialist social democracy. Whether this is indeed possible is the question of our day.

Max Ajl is a postdoctoral fellow at Wageningen University’s Rural Sociology Group, and an associated researcher with the Tunisian Observatory for Food Sovereignty and the Environment. He is also an editor at Agrarian South and Journal of Labor and Society, and is on twitter @maxajl.

Saturday 12 March 2022

It's not over for COP26 as the Coalition builds for the future


Written by Skye Pepier

The COP26 Coalition has continued to meet since the Glasgow Summit in November last year, and on 19th February there was a whole day of discussion about the future of the movement. The framing for the discussion was that Glasgow last year was just the start of the network’s activity, and that the work needed to build an effective climate movement on these islands should be continued and enhanced. 

There was a tremendous enthusiasm about the action and work that is being undertaken by the Coalition, despite the recognition that the COP26 summit was a failure and did not bring the action on climate change needed from our so-called world leaders. People from all corners of Britain, and the world, including the Caribbean and Africa participated in the COP26 Coalition meetings. 

Despite similar attempts of network building by Green Left, however, including its involvement of the Ecosocialist Alliance, there was a noticeable absence in the COP26 Coalition meetings, of anyone involved in Green parties, of either Scotland, or England and Wales. This doesn't necessarily mean that there weren't Green Party members present - but it was difficult to discover the presence of fellow Green Party members. 

After a brief introduction to the COP26 Coalition, there were discussions around the difference between organising and mobilising a diversity of tactics, as well as regional exercises to build up COP26 local hubs and the wider climate justice movement. 

The day then closed with an online rally for the year ahead, titled 'Movement Building & Collective Strategies', with speakers from Fridays for Future Scotland, Campaign Against Climate Change, Landworkers Alliance, as well as youth activist Aoife Mercedes Rodriguez-Uruchurtu from YouthStrike4Climate Manchester and Breathe.  

Each speaker was able to say something quite different to the others, but without disagreement of any kind, which was a sign of the diversity of the COP26 Coalition movement, and arguably, also its strength. 

So, what is next for the COP26 Coalition? As the UK holds the presidency of COP26 until the start of COP27, it is still important to keep climate change on the agenda, just as it always has, but especially if we want to see continued action while the UK is in its current global position on it. There is also the matter of building towards COP27, despite it being in Egypt, where post-Arab Spring oppression has been brutal. 

The strategy for the COP26 Coalition covers the following areas: 

1. Building local capacity by supporting the 'local hubs' to continue to organise locally and to aim to bring other climate campaigns and campaigners together through taking action and the target mapping. 

2. Continue to hold events, such as mass gatherings, to build up, and share, useful skills and to learn more from each other e.g., on tactics and other ideas. 

3. To continue to put pressure, where possible, on our leaders, for meaningful action on climate justice. 

4. To share relevant experience of organising together as the baton for the summit itself is now being passed to Egyptian climate organisers. 

While many of us in the Green Party will now be looking to the local elections in May, it might be worth also reaching out to COP26 Coalition groups in our areas, to see how it might be possible to work together for an opportunity to strengthen the climate movement. 

The politics of the participants in the meetings of the 19th February feel like a good fit to those that I have already found among Green Left activists (despite being involved for a relatively short amount of time), so there should be no real practical or ideological barriers to connecting our movements more, and I would argue that Green Left is in a fairly unique position to be able to bridge what seems to be a divide between the Green Party of England and Wales, and the broader climate movement, of which the COP26 Coalition is arguably closest to us at the present moment. 

Even if our personal capacity is an obstacle to involvement in the run-up to the local elections, let us somehow at least make a resolve now to connect these struggles once the elections are over. 

The COP26 Coalition Trade Union Caucus also meets online on the 3rd Tuesday of the month and is well worth being explored by any rank and file trade union organisers. 

To find out more about the COP26 Coalition you can visit their website at

Skye Pepier is a member of Tower Hamlets Green Party and a Green Left supporter.